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Thoughts After Watching 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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The last few days have been challenging ones around Chez Caffrey, as I’ve been battling some health issues. That, and only that, is the reason I didn’t write something sooner about the 2015 United States Figure Skating Championships, held in Greensboro, North Carolina, this past weekend.

There’s a great many things I wish to say, both about the men’s and women’s competitions. They showcased persistence and heart as Adam Rippon won the free skate event and nearly walked off with the United States men’s title, and they also showcased the fighting spirit of Mirai Nagasu, who finished her long program after suffering a devastating freak injury by skating into the boards.

First, let’s talk about the men’s event, which was completed on Sunday afternoon.

  • Adam Rippon’s long program was a complete delight from beginning to end. It was lyrical, it was athletic, and it was brilliant. Rippon, who attempted a quadruple Lutz jump (by far the toughest quadruple jump ever attempted) and landed it (albeit with an under-rotation), deserved to win the men’s event, hands-down, as he was graded much more harshly in the short program than he should’ve been. But he did win the free skate, as he deserved…he’s my odds-on favorite for a World medal in Shanghai whether he lands the quad Lutz or not. (But if he does, watch out — Rippon could shock the world and win gold. Shades of Rudy Galindo, indeed!)
  • Jason Brown won the overall event with a good and solid performance that, three-quarters of the way in, I’d have called “robotic.” However, in his final minute, his footwork caught fire and he again became the showman I knew he could be. Brown’s spins and jumps are solid and beautiful, but he does not have a quadruple jump planned for World’s. He is likely to place somewhere between fifth and seventh even if he skates lights-out at World’s because of this.
  • Joshua Farris came in third with an introspective program that showcased his artistry along with a quadruple jump attempt. Farris has more chance at a medal than Brown, but probably less than Rippon, who has the most international experience of the lot. However, Farris reminds me the most of retired World Champion Jeremy Buttle of Canada…if Farris hits his quad and does everything else at the same level as he did in Greensboro, he has a fighting chance for a medal.

Those are the top three medalists, and all are both artists and good, solid jumpers. But what about the rest of the field?

Some quick hits:

  • Max Aaron tried two quads, landing one cleanly and the other two-footed and possibly a tad under-rotated. Still, he has guts and moxie, and I enjoyed his program (skated to the music from the “Gladiator” movie) immensely. Aaron has a similar style to Maxim Kovtun of Russia, yet Aaron never gets the same sort of PCS marks Kovtun gets from the judges (PCS means artistic impression, more or less). Aaron came in a strong fourth, and is the first alternate to the World team.
  • Jeremy Abbott skated a quiet and lyrical program, but fell twice; he did attempt a quad toe loop. His father passed away last week of Parkinson’s disease, and as such I felt Jeremy’s performance showed a great deal of grit and heart. As always, I enjoyed his musicianship and style. He finished fifth, but any other year, he’d have won a bronze.
  • I appreciated Ross Miner’s program. It was quiet, elegant, a little reserved, but seemed to fit him admirably. He was a bit under the radar due to being in the final flight of skaters with Abbott, Aaron, Rippon, etc. Miner skated as well as I’ve ever seen him; some years, what he did would’ve been enough for a bronze.
  • Douglas Razzano skated in the second flight of skaters, but I was impressed with his energetic performance. He has a wonderful sense of timing and rhythm. He attempted a quad toe loop and finished seventh; many other years, he’d have been in the top five.
  • Loved, loved, loved Sean Rabbit’s fire and showmanship. He doesn’t have a quad, doesn’t have a solid triple Axel, but man does he have talent. Truly enjoyed his performance.
  • Felt terrible for Richard Dornbush. He’s had boot and skate problems all season, and they came back to haunt him in Greensboro. He finished in tenth place, mostly because of equipment issues.

Now it’s on to the ladies’ event, which had its own share of drama and excitement.

I’ve been tough on Ashley Wagner in the past. I didn’t think she deserved to go to the Olympics last year, and I let everyone know it. But this year — ah, what a difference a year makes!

This year, she showed moxie, class, and confidence in adding a Triple lutz-triple toe loop combination — the toughest jump combo any woman attemped at the U.S. Nationals — very late in the game. She was easily the class of the field, and has an excellent chance to win a medal at World’s.

Quick hits regarding the other competitors who caught my eye:

  • Gracie Gold may not be hurt right now, but she skated tentatively and cautiously to a silver medal performance. She looked beautiful, as always, and I loved her layback spin and presentation. But if she skates like that at World’s, she’s probably going to be ranked somewhere between fifth and eighth.
  • Karen Chen’s delightful, effervescent performance deservedly won the bronze medal. She’s young, she’s fresh, she’s outspoken in the same way Ashley Wagner is — I look forward to much more from her. But because she is too young to go to World’s, she’ll be going to Junior World’s instead. (I fully expect her to dominate Junior World’s, too, if she skates anything close to what she did at the U.S. Nationals.)
  • Polina Edmunds’ fourth-place performance looked gawky and awkward, possibly because of some growing pains. (She’s just turned sixteen.) She has a boatload of talent; once she gets fully acclimated to her adult height (whatever it turns out to be), she’s going to be formidable. She’s been named to the World team; because of her “puberty issues,” it’s impossible for me to predict how she’ll do — she’s the ultimate wild card.

Longer takes:

  • I felt terrible for Courtney Hicks in the long program. She is a jumper, and is a strong presence on the ice. Her long program was conceptualized (according to what I found at Ice Network and via some Twitter conversations with other figure skating fans) as a woman slowly going insane, which makes sense in retrospect as her performance looked herky-jerky and as if she’d woken up with stiffness and soreness. Her jumps were solid, as ever, and her spins were good. But the program itself did not seem to showcase her good qualities. To my mind, Ms. Hicks needs to study skaters like the now-disgraced Tonya Harding, Elizabeth Manley, and Midori Ito — the powerful jumpers, in short. (Others to consider: Elaine Zayak, Kimmie Meissner, Emily Hughes, even Nicole Bobek — another disgraced skater, granted, but one who combined powerful jumps with an effervescent style at her best.) Hicks is never going to be a ballerina and should not try; her coaches did so well with her this year in the short program with something that truly suited her style. Now they need to find out whether or not Hicks can master the triple Axel — because if she can, that’s her ticket to a World medal, not to mention fame and fortune.
  • Finally, poor Mirai Nagasu. That woman cannot catch a break to save her life. She started off her long program with a strong triple flip-triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, landing it solidly (albeit with some underrotations called by the judges), and followed that up with another solid double Axel-triple toeloop combination. But then, she skated too close to the boards and fell down — shades of what happened to Jeremy Abbott last year during his Olympic short program — and injured her knee. Bravely, she finished her program despite being in obvious pain, and finished 10th overall. She deserves a medal for her strong spirit, fortitude in the face of adversity, and as many shoutouts as possible because no one — not the judges, not her own coach, not even the medical staff — seemed to realize how badly she was hurt, forcing her to go out and take bows even though she’d immediately skated to the side to get off the ice and rest her knee. Ms. Nagasu is a fighter of the first water, and showed her resilience and strength in full measure; what I saw from her on Saturday night was not just a portrait in courage, but a superbly trained athlete doing her all after becoming injured in the pursuit. I’m very impressed with Ms. Nagasu, and hope that whatever nonsense she may hear due to her 10th place finish will go straight out the window; I also hope her own coach, Tom Zakrajsek, will give her major “props” for finishing.

Anyway, these were my thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more in the coming days…but until then, I hope that anyone who may come across this blog will remember one, final thing:

Do your best. Providing you’ve done that, nothing else matters. (I had to learn this as a musician when I competed in various events, and it still applies.)

Olympics Controversy in Figure Skating Again as Sotnikova “Wins” Gold over Kim, Kostner

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Folks, I have rarely been as upset about a result in Olympic figure skating as I am right now.

In fact, the last time I was this upset, it was over Johnny Weir’s brilliant skate in the 2010 Vancouver games being marked too low for him to medal (he started in sixth after the short and stayed there despite his brilliant long program).

But this time, it’s because one skater — Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova — was given marks that were far, far too high, allowing her to “win” the gold medal over two far superior skaters — South Korea’s Yuna Kim, and Italy’s Carolina Kostner.

This is a controversy of major proportions for two reasons: One, Kim, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, skated a clean, challenging program, but was not rewarded to the same level as Sotnikova. And two, Carolina Kostner’s program was perhaps even better than Kim’s and Sotnikova’s from an artistic perspective, yet she, too, was undermarked.

Here are just a few articles talking about the controversy:

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel says:

(Sotnikova’s) score was through the roof, 5.76 points higher than what Kim was given on another flawless-looking program and 7.34 above what Kostner received for her own tremendous program.

The judging, because of the size of the gap between the scores, is likely to be analyzed and criticized for years to come. In fact, American Ashley Wagner wasted no time, saying “people need to be accountable.”

The Age, an Australian newspaper, was much more blunt in its assessment:

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova rode a powerful wave of national emotion to win a controversial Olympic figure skating title on Thursday as the Sochi Games felt shockwaves from Ukraine’s bloody civil unrest.

Sotnikova, 17, captured Russia’s first ever women’s individual gold as defending champion and red-hot favourite Kim Yu-Na was dumped into the silver medal position.

The Age also points out that Sotnikova made at least one obvious error — double-footing a combination jump (this is when both feet come down at the same time, and is unmistakable) — when both Kim and Kostner made zero errors in their respective programs.

Kostner was gracious, being quoted by the Age as saying, “I just have faith that the judges made the right decision.”

CBS Sports quoted American Ashley Wagner, who alone among the three American women skated an error-free program to finish in seventh place, as saying:

“People don’t want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean,” she said. “It’s confusing and we need to make it clear for people.

“People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base.”

Note that Wagner may be complaining more about the fact that Gold, who fell, was placed ahead of Wagner in the standings than the current controversy. But her point is still well-taken; if Kim and Kostner both skated difficult and clean programs, why did Sotnikova, who skated a difficult program but did not skate clean, get rewarded?

My own assessment is this: Sotnikova deserved a medal. Bronze.

Kostner should’ve won the gold, to my mind, but I’d have been OK with her winning silver and Kim winning gold because both skated clean programs with lyricism and heart.

I watched Sotnikova’s program several times. She actually double-footed two jumps (the last two) in her three-jump combo, and she also had a slight double-foot on one other triple jump. Those all should’ve had negative grade of execution scores that should’ve been reflected in her overall scores . . . but weren’t.

And while I enjoyed commentator Johnny Weir’s assessment immensely on NBCsn’s coverage — he did a fantastic job with every event alongside Tara Lipinski and Terry Gannon — I do not agree with him or Lipinski that Sotnikova deserved gold.

A few other final thoughts about the women’s figure skating event:

  1. Mao Asada had by far the most impressive skate in the long program, landing at least one triple axel cleanly and skating with a buoyancy I hadn’t been expecting after her disastrous short program. It’s truly a shame that she wasn’t able to get some sort of combination into her program yesterday, as she might well have medaled despite the bad fall had she done so. She ended her competitive career with grace and dignity; it was an honor to watch her skate for so many years.
  2. Ashley Wagner’s skate was clean; she had one under-rotation and one wrong-edge entry deduction (this is really tough to spot, but it’s when a figure skater starts the jump on the wrong edge and switches over just before making the jump in order to make it a little easier to perform), but these things happen. She looked good and validated her entry into the Olympics.
  3. Polina Edmunds had a fall in her long program and didn’t skate as well as she did at the U.S. Nationals, finishing in ninth place. (This is who should’ve been replaced by Wagner; Mirai Nagasu should’ve gone instead as I believe she’d have placed above Edmunds.)
  4. Gracie Gold had one fall that looked almost like a somersault on the ice (as she got up so quickly, you almost didn’t notice it was there). She’s a rising star.
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia had a nice free skate with one fall and was placed about where she should be in fifth place due to her incredibly difficult spins. Ashley Wagner is not happy about it (see this article by Yahoo Sports writer Martin Rogers), but Lipnitskaia’s marks were not anywhere near as wildly inflated as Sotnikova’s.

Ultimately, Sotnikova’s “gold” medal is yet another black eye for figure skating. And while I was sure as of last night that the judges would not do something like this — as they had to know a protest would ensue (Italy is not likely to protest, but South Korea sounded to me as if they’re strongly considering it) — the judges have exceeded my expectations . . . in a bad way.

Don’t be surprised if the IOC overrules this one and gives Kim a gold medal along with Sotnikova.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Olympic Thoughts: Dance, Ladies Short Program

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Folks, the last few days have been hectic. So I’ve not had much time to discuss the latest doings in the world of Olympic figure skating.

But since I had a request from a friend to discuss a bit of the ice dancing, I thought I’d talk about that.

But wait — there’s more.

Because I managed to see every single one of the ladies perform their Olympic short programs yesterday, I thought I’d discuss a little bit about that competition as well.

First, let’s talk about the ice dancing. United States figure skaters Charlie White and Meryl Davis excelled in their short program, and skated a solid long program to a beautiful piece of music (Scheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) with technical brilliance and a great deal of speed to win the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in ice dance. (Note that Davis and White won silver in 2010, while Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto also won silver in 2006.)

I enjoyed White and Davis’ skating, and felt they were worthy of a gold medal.

However, in some ways I responded a whole lot more to Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They, too, are excellent skaters with the whole repertoire of moves . . . they won gold in Vancouver, though, so it’s hard to feel like they’ve been cheated.

As for the women’s short program, here’s my take:

  1. The American women are in good shape, with Gracie Gold in fourth place, Ashley Wagner in sixth and Polina Edmunds in seventh. All skated credibly or better; Gold has a real chance to win a silver or bronze if she skates a clean long program.
  2. There’s no way in the world Adelina Sotnikova belongs among the top six. Her scores were wildly inflated.
  3. What a shame that Mao Asada wasn’t able to complete her triple axel or her combination jump. Her program was lovely except for the fall, but missing those required elements dropped her all the way to sixteenth place. She’d need several miracles to get within striking distance of the podium.
  4. My overall winner of the short program? Carolina Kostner of Italy. She skated beautifully to “Ave Maria,” and was every bit as good as Yuna Kim.

In case you’re wondering what I’m looking for in Friday’s long program from the ladies, here goes:

  1. Russian ladies’ scores will continue to be wildly inflated, but none will medal (as if they did, an international judging controversy would no doubt ensue).
  2. Mao Asada will land at least one triple axel and a three-jump combo (probably triple-triple-double).
  3. Gracie Gold will skate clean and medal.
  4. Podium (who I think should win): Carolina Kostner, gold; Yuna Kim, silver; Gracie Gold, bronze.
  5. Podium (who the judges will inexplicably pick): Yuna Kim, gold; Carolina Kostner, silver; probably still Gracie Gold, bronze, unless Mao Asada lands two triple axels cleanly (if so, she’ll win the bronze somehow, and deserve it).

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:20 am

United States Team Advances to Team Figure Skating Final

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Folks, after a rough skate by United States men’s champion Jeremy Abbott two days ago, it was unclear whether or not the U.S. would advance in the new figure skating team event.

You see, in this event, all four types of figure skating are on display. You must field an ice dance team and a pairs team plus one female skater and one male skater. You get one point for tenth place, ten points for first, and the points aggregate. And you’re allowed two substitutions after the short program.

Anyway, in the first night of the team event, Abbott skated disastrously and landed in seventh place, gaining only four points, while the pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shapnir came in fifth — about what was expected — gaining six points. Which meant after the first two disciplines skated, the U.S. had only ten points and was tied for fifth place with two other teams.

This may sound good, but as there were only ten entries in this inaugural team event, it’s really not what was expected.

Earlier today, the dance team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice and delivered an excellent short dance (the dance version of the short program), finishing in first place and gaining all ten points. Which meant that Ashley Wagner, who was next (and last) to skate for the United States, had to finish in the top five or the United States not qualify for the final round.

Fortunately, Ashley Wagner delivered a solid performance and landed in fourth place. This allowed the United States to qualify along with Russia, Japan, Italy, and Canada for the medal round.

What to watch in the finals? Well, the top Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov have dropped out of the team event, allowing the second Russian pairs team to take over (probably Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the current Russian champions, will be substituted in their place). And Patrick Chan, the reigning World Champion (despite last year’s disastrous free skate), has also dropped out, allowing Kevin Reynolds to skate in his place.

This makes it a little easier for the United States to perhaps move up and take a silver, depending on how well they do from here on out.

A few more things to keep an eye on:

Japan does not have much help coming from their ice dance and pairs skaters, and will no doubt finish fifth in both of those (the pairs team is particularly weak). Their male and female skaters must finish either first or second in order for them to make up for this weakness.

Italy also has a weak pairs team, but a decent-to-better ice dance team that’s actually in contention for a bronze individual medal by most accounts. Their strength is in the women’s competition, where Carolina Kostner has medaled at Worlds several times, winning a gold, two silvers and two bronzes over the years; their male skaters are not among the top twenty in the world, and may not even be in the top fifty.

Canada has an excellent pairs team, an excellent dance team, a decent-to-better female skater in Kaetlyn Osmond and their second-best man, Kevin Reynolds. Hard to say how well they can do overall, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t win a silver.

Russia is the odds-on favorite to win the gold, as they have strong competitors in all four disciplines and a huge lead going into the finals (as the points apparently carry over).

The final round starts off with the pairs again, and will take place later this evening in Sochi. (It may be underway as we speak, in fact.) I plan to come back later and discuss this here at my blog, and give you my own assessment.

All I know right now is this: It’s good the United States made it this far. But the U.S. team had best replace Abbott with Jason Brown — I’ve heard it’s likely they’ll do this (Abbott himself surely seemed to think so, at any rate, from the interviews I’ve seen on NBC and its related networks) — if it wants any chance at a medal.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 8, 2014 at 2:05 pm

U.S. Figure Skating Assn. Places Ashley Wagner on 2014 Olympic Team Despite Dismal 4th Place Finish at Nationals

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Folks, right now I’m glad I write a blog where headline length is flexible. Because as you see, what just happened a few, short hours ago would strain the limits of most normal newspaper headlines — former United States champion Ashley Wagner, who finished way behind the top three finishers last night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was placed on the Olympic Team anyway and is going to Sochi.

Here’s what happened last night during the Ladies Long Program at the United States Figure Skating Championships in Boston — 18-year-old Gracie Gold won the gold medal with a technically challenging routine, 15-year-old Polina Edmunds won the silver medal with perhaps the most difficult routine, and 20-year-old Mirai Nagasu won the bronze medal in a complete upset. Heavily favored Ashley Wagner, a two-time national champion, finished fourth due to two major falls and under-rotating two other triple jumps instead.**

Usually, when there are three spots on the Olympic Team, the top three at the U.S. Nationals are the people who end up going. However, in this case, that did not happen.

Take a look at the point totals for these four women:

  1. Gracie Gold — 211.69
  2. Polina Edmunds — 193.63
  3. Mirai Nagasu — 190.74
  4. Ashley Wagner — 182.74

In particular, the difference between Edmunds in second place and Nagasu in third was only about three points. Edmunds competed in her very first senior-level event last night in Boston, and while she was impressive, it’s hard to believe she can duplicate her efforts in Sochi. (Mind you, I’d like her to do so — I felt she was light on her feet and had a good, musical style, to boot. But the reason Tara Lipinski’s 1998 Olympic gold medal is still celebrated so many years later is because what Lipinski did at the age of fifteen is rare.)

The U.S. Figure Skating Association thus had a choice: Were they going to name Wagner, who has been heavily promoted in NBC TV advertising? Were they going to name Nagasu, who despite not having a coach (an extreme rarity in elite figure skating) did exceptionally well? Were they going to confirm Edmunds despite her lack of international experience at the senior level?

In other words, the only lock here was Gracie Gold. She won the national championships, fair and square. She has international experience. She was going to Sochi, but everyone else was in doubt.

So when the USFSA decided to name Gold, Edmunds, and Wagner, at least a few eyebrows were raised.

Take a look at this article from Yahoo Sportswriter Martin Rogers:

Ashley Wagner was controversially named to the United States women’s Olympic team on Sunday despite her disappointing fourth-place finish at the U.S. Championships this weekend.

Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion and fifth-place finisher in the World Championships, was awarded the third spot on the roster just hours after being highly critical of her own effort at TD Garden, where the Nationals typically serve as the de facto Olympic trials.

Vancouver Olympian Mirai Nagasu finished third here but will miss out on Sochi, as Gracie Gold, 18, and Polina Edmunds, 15, were awarded the first two spots.

In previous years, the finishing order at the Nationals has generally been used to select the squad, with the only changes coming as a result of injury.

Rogers’ point is that Wagner finished fourth, so she doesn’t deserve to go.

Here’s an opposing view from internationally respected sportswriter Christine Brennan in an article written for USA Today last evening before the official selections were announced:

Ashley Wagner did not skate well Thursday night in the women’s short program at the U.S. figure skating Olympic trials, and she was even worse Saturday night, falling twice.

Still, U.S. Figure Skating should send her to the Sochi Olympic Games . . . One competition, even as big an event as the U.S. nationals, should not mar the best international resume among U.S. women over the past two years . . .

Here’s why the 22-year-old Wagner deserves to go even though she performed poorly here:

She was the two-time defending national champion who has by far the most impressive resume of the bunch. She won the silver medal at the 2012 Grand Prix Final and the bronze at last month’s 2013 Grand Prix Final. These are prestigious, important international events. She has finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the last two world championships — the best of any American. New national champion Gracie Gold was sixth, right behind Wagner, at the 2013 worlds.

It should be noted that Wagner’s and Gold’s placements there earned the United States the third spot for the Olympic Games, the spot Wagner presumably would fill.

(Note: Ellipses and emphasis added by BC)

So Brennan’s contention is that Wagner is the most consistent of the U.S. ladies — something I firmly agree with — and that as Wagner was part of the reason why the U.S. got three spots in the first place, Wagner should represent the U.S.

My point is a little different, though. I’m not saying Wagner shouldn’t go. I’m saying Edmunds shouldn’t go, mostly because Edmunds has never before skated in a senior event. She may be the next Tara Lipinski, as she herself alluded to last night in NBC’s figure skating coverage — or she could be a huge bust.

Whereas Nagasu finished fourth in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, has proven herself as a figure skater despite all her recent inconsistency (much less her volatility in not currently having a coach), and more to the point is a bit older, besides.

So if you must pick between these four women — a strong supposition — you have consistent skaters in Gold and Wagner, and the biggest wild card extant in either Edmunds or Nagasu.

The USFSA picked Edmunds due to her youth. They figure she will improve. She also speaks Russian, has Russian family members, and probably will get more out of the trip on a personal level than Nagasu — all good.

But I still don’t like what the USFSA did. I think if they were bound and determined to pick Edmunds, they should’ve picked Nagasu as well even though it would’ve really upset the apple cart with NBC (not to mention Wagner, who’s highly regarded in the figure skating community) because logically, it doesn’t scan well any other way.

Because of what the USFSA did today — and the way in which they did it — has reminded me yet again that in figure skating, it’s not what you do so much as who you know that determines our Olympic Team.

And that’s sad.

————–

**Under-rotating jumps, for non-figure skating fans, basically means this — the jumps looked like triples to the naked eye. Wagner attempted to jump cleanly, but instead of the jump grading out as a triple (with three rotations in the air), it instead was a gussied-up double (meaning it was an over-rotated double or an under-rotated triple). Jumps such as these are counted as double jumps rather than triple jumps and get less credit from the judges thereby; further, such under-rotated jumps often get downgraded on the second mark (what used to be called artistic impression) as well in something called “grade of execution.” (Clear as mud, right?)

 

Quick US Figure Skating Update (Men’s and Women’s 2012 Worlds)

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Folks, it annoys me severely when I can’t watch the United States Figure Skating Team compete, especially when they go to the World Figure Skating Championship — this year’s venue was in Nice, France.  That makes it tough to comment on what happened, because all I know is what I can read about online, or when I’m able to see YouTube videos after the fact.  And this can’t convey the energy in the arena or the circumstances of the event, as they’re just a snapshot of one person’s skating, without the context necessary in which to judge the event.

So all I can tell you is the bare facts.  Which aren’t pretty.

Here goes:

The United States men’s team, comprised of the talented duo of Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon, did not do very well in France.  This was Rippon’s first time at Worlds, so for him to finish 13th isn’t terrible — other people who’ve gone to Worlds for the first time have finished lower than that.  But it also wasn’t very good, and I haven’t a clue about why except that Rippon apparently was a bit rattled (nerves, most likely) and fell on his opening jump in the free skate.  This threw him off enough that he wasn’t able to get back on his game.

But while nerves can perhaps be blamed for Rippon’s 13th place finish, I really don’t know what happened with U.S. Champ Jeremy Abbott, who finished 8th.  I know he battles severe problems with nerves, because he sees a sports psychologist (something I admire him for doing).  And I know that when he went to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as the 2010 U.S. Champ, he finished 9th.  This sounds a lot better than it was, as Abbott had to work hard to move up to get into the top ten, as he had a disastrous short program; apparently something similar happened in France, which is a shame.

Both of these men are lyrical, elegant skaters with excellent skating skills and technique.  When they’re on, they can light up the room in a similar manner to my favorite U.S. skater, Johnny Weir; because of this, they are fan favorites (perhaps not as much as Weir, who’s attempting a comeback).  That’s why it hurts so much to have to report such results.

Here’s an article from the Chicago Tribune online that describes what happened to the men, and how disappointing it is:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-the-truth-hurts-us-men-dismal-at-world-skate-20120331,0,1277841.column

And the women did no better; U.S. champ Ashley Wagner finished fourth only because she worked her heart out in the free skate, pulling way up.  And poor Alissa Czisny — I ache for this woman — finished a dismal 22nd after falling in the free skate five times.  Czisny also fell twice in the short program, which begs the question: was she injured?  And if so, why did she go and skate, especially as she has had trouble with her nerves before, and something like this would not help her at all?

Here’s the article, again from the Chicago Tribune, that explains this:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/globetrotting/chi-no-bad-just-good-and-ugly-for-us-women-at-world-skate-20120331,0,3166346.column

Here’s writer Philip Hersh’s assessment of what happened to Czisny:

Czisny, U.S. champion in 2009 and 2011 and second this year, wound up 22nd after what may have been the worst free skate ever by a skater with her talent and record. (emphasis mine: BC)

She fell five times in four minutes.  She landed no clean triple jumps.

She had fallen twice in the short program and finished 16th.  Seven falls in a competition must be some kind of record.

Czisny has so much talent that a result like this is unfathomable.  I’ve written posts before about her persistence and her elegance and grace; this woman always gives it her best effort, has rallied back from huge defeats, and has apparently battled nerves throughout.  When Czisny is on — and she’s on far more than she’s off — she lights up the room, especially when she spins as she’s one of the best spinners, male or female, in the world.  And she’d improved her jumping technique — her only real weakness — very much in the past few years, which is why I really don’t understand how Czisny didn’t land a single triple jump.

My only guess is that Czisny was injured, but if she was injured, why was she in France at all?  Why not withdraw rather than “take one for the team” and finish 22nd?

I’m well aware that the others who could’ve been sent — Caroline Zhang, Mirai Nagasu, and Agnes Zawadski — would’ve had a tough time at Worlds, too.  But they’d probably have done better than 22nd as this was the lowest finish ever for an American woman — much less someone with top talent like Czisny (she finished a strong fifth last year, for pity’s sake!).

My hope for all of these skaters is that they keep at it.  Abbott has tons of talent; so does Czisny.  Rippon has barely scratched the surface of what he can do.  Wagner has improved so much, she could be our next Olympic gold medalist — but of these four, she’s the only one who appears to be on an even keel.  (Though it’s quite possible Rippon is, too.  It’s not unknown to go to Worlds for the first time and finish under where your ability should put you; in fact, it’s odd when something like that doesn’t happen.)

Abbott and Czisny are both in their mid-twenties; that’s old for the sport.  That makes getting a handle on whatever went wrong for them more time-sensitive than it is for Rippon or Wagner (especially as Wagner did have an excellent free skate).  I sincerely hope for both of their sakes they will realize that this was just one bad day (very bad in Czisny’s case), and that the talent they embody continues, undimished.  They must shake this off, and keep trying; that’s the best way to win in the only way that truly counts: being your best self, and using your talents accordingly.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm

2012 US Women’s Figure Skating Championships — Wagner Wins, Czisny Second

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Folks, last year I wrote a blog about Alissa Czisny (link is here), and that blog goes double for her performance this year in the 2012 United States Women’s Figure Skating National Championships even though she came in second to Ashley Wagner.

Watching Czisny skate last evening, I was struck again by her elegance across the ice, the perfection of her positioning, her excellent spins, and her gritty determination.  Though Czisny fell on her first triple Lutz (her most difficult jump) and turned out of another attempt at the same jump, she otherwise made no obvious mistakes; this is quite difficult to do, because once something goes wrong in a performance, it can be difficult to hold it together.

I applaud her determination and persistence; coming in second to Ashley Wagner (who skated by far the best program of the night, with six clean triple jumps) is not a defeat.  And as Czisny said herself to NBC Sports reporter Andrea Joyce, sometimes you can learn more from your imperfect programs than your perfect ones, which shows how strong Czisny’s mental perspective is overall.

Czisny should be named to the World Team as she came in fifth last year.  Had she come in third at the US Nationals, she’d have had a harder time to get onto the World Team, though it might’ve happened anyway as the US has to know Czisny is their strongest competitor overall, and is by far the US’s best chance to medal at Worlds.**

But keep your eyes on Wagner; she’s a very strong skater with good jumps, good spins, and some nice artistry to her.  (She’s friendly with my favorite figure skater, Johnny Weir, too, so that doesn’t hurt her in my eyes, either.)  She, too, has an excellent chance to get a medal, providing she hangs on to her composure.

More thoughts about the women’s championships: it was nice to see Caroline Zhang do well and come in fourth, as it’s been years since she skated a clean and effective performance.  Zhang skates a bit too slowly for my taste but the way she moves is impeccable and her spins, while slower and less precise than Czisny’s, are probably the best of all the American women aside from Czisny.

Agnes Zawadski, first after the short program, fell into third place.  Zawadski is only seventeen years old, so she has plenty of time to compete among the best in the United States, and eventually, the world.  I really enjoyed her short program and see big things ahead for her if she can only get a handle on her nerves.

Otherwise, I felt sorry for Mirai Nagasu; she came in seventh, and had a wildly inconsistent performance.  I think Nagasu needs to speak with Czisny once this season is over, because Czisny is the skater who’s most likely to understand what Nagasu has been going through. 

See, once upon a time, Czisny was not a model of consistency, either, partly due to a lack of good jump techniques with the triple jumps.  But she’s worked through that and has come out more confident, more dedicated and with everything you could ever want in a figure skater on the other side.  Maybe Nagasu can do the same thing down the road if she just learns to trust herself and her ability.

Here’s hoping.

———-

** UPDATE:  Czisny was indeed named to the World Team along with Wagner.  Congratulations!

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm